Junior Wells: Up Close and in the Red

3rd January 2017

Title: Blues Hit Big Town

Label: Delmark

An incredible collection of important Chicago blues tracks, recorded in 1953 (Side A) and 1954 (Side B) from Wells which also features the likes of Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Johnnie Jones, Otis Spann and Willie Dixon.

The sound quality from his cut is primitive and raw and Wells’ own vocal delivery is up close and personal. It’s not distorted but you can hear, as on Hoodoo Man, that the microphone is right up close to his mouth: Wells wanted to deliver his message without losing any information, it seems. This sometimes adds a reedy edge to his vocal, possibly a result of his vocals moving up into the red a touch.

The backing band is given more air and space to do their thing although there is a rather hollow overall feel to the soundstage which makes you wonder if the LP was recorded in someone’s basement.

The power of the overall delivery is impressive, though, even on the lower tempo cuts such as Junior’s Wail. This is aided by the power and rhythmic solidity from Fred Below’s drums which give the entire album a real foundation.

Throughout the album, Wells has a distinct sense of the intimate. You feel that you are intruding on a private party. It’s as if he’s singing for a bunch of friends (or even to himself), without any thought of the public. You can almost imagine Wells singing with his eyes closed, swaying to the music, bringing the music to him. The power of such a free-form blues performance is enhanced because of this.

This edition includes Throw This Poor Dog A Bone as an audition made at the United Records office some time. United Records was the first, successful, black-owned record company between Wells’ two sessions for the company. Also included here is an alternative take of Eagle Rock.